I guess we can’t handle it

I don't have the print edition of the New York Times, so I 'm not sure where this article is placed on the page.  It purports to cover last night's Presidential debate.  But I don't know how you can cover a debate about facts and counter facts by mentioning the word "truth" only once ("fact" and "false" don't even appear):

Mr. Obama’s campaign released a video called “Mostly Fiction,” in which it accuses Mr. Romney of playing “fast and loose” with the truth during the debate.

So they said, did they.  I find this omission somewhat odd, because the NYT had a huge fact-check section.

In a related matter, here is fact-check.org on Romney's Tax Cut:

To be clear, Romney has proposed cutting personal federal income tax rates across the board by 20 percent, in addition to extending the tax cuts enacted early in the Bush administration. He also proposes to eliminate the estate tax permanently, repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, and eliminate taxes on interest, capital gains and dividends for taxpayers making under $200,000 a year in adjusted gross income.

By themselves, those cuts would, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, lower federal tax liability by “about $480 billion in calendar year 2015” compared with current tax policy, with Bush cuts left in place. The Obama campaign has extrapolated that figure out over 10 years, coming up with a $5 trillion figure over a decade.

However, Romney always has said he planned to offset that massive cut with equally massive reductions in tax preferences to broaden the tax base, thus losing no revenue and not increasing the deficit. So to that extent, the president is incorrect: Romney is not proposing a $5 trillion reduction in taxes.

Read that carefully.  Romney says that he will offset his tax cuts with unnamed reductions in deductions.  They're not part of his plan.  So Obama therefore is lying about his plan.   

One thought on “I guess we can’t handle it”

  1. Thank you!  This tendency drives me up the wall, and this specific instance in particular.  Politifact sometimes does the same thing, evaluating whether something is true or a lie in a very narrow, pedantic way.  Their fuller accounts tend to be much better, and offer the context their judgments sometimes deny.  I think most fact-checking organizations are honestly trying, but when they stumble badly, this is often the reason why.  
    You'll notice for FactCheck.org, bullets #1 and #2 somewhat contradict each other.  The Tax Policy Center report shows that Romney's budget numbers just don't add up, even when the report gave Romney every benefit of the doubt (none of the iterations of Ryan's budget add up, either).  Romney has repeatedly prioritized tax cuts for the rich, arguing that the rich are job creators and this will create economic growth (not true, as the Bush years clearly show, but we'll leave that aside for a sec).  Consequently, Romney would have to do one of three things: 1) raise the burden tremendously on the middle class, working out an average of a few thousand per family (estimates differ) 2) severely cut discretionary spending (education, infrastructure) which not incidentally would hurt the middle class and poor the most, or 3) just not pay for his tax cuts, and add to the deficit and debt.  I think #3 is the most likely, as that was the Bush approach, it's the Ryan approach, and the congressional Republican approach. (As of July 2011, 97% of them had signed Norquist's anti-tax pledge.  Some are active proponents of Starve-the-Beast.)  
    If you believe David Brooks, Romney's math is just an honest mistake, despite all his advisors (many who worked for Bush), despite all the track records involved, and despite being questioned about the math for several months.  So the most charitable assessment would be that Team Romney is incompetent about a core issue, but the more obvious conclusion is that he's being purposely vague and peddling time-tested bullshit.
    Enter Obama.  He critiques Romney, and correctly points out that the math doesn't add up.  He points out, as the NYT puts it, the most politically unpalatable way Romney could make the numbers work (and doesn't mention the other two, or not as much).  Bill Clinton actually did a very good job laying out all of Romney's three options in his speech at the DNC, and Obama's accounts haven't been as fleshed out, it's true.  That's a fair point of criticism, but it's more a point that requires further explanation and context.  ('Obama emphasizes [X], but Romney could also do [Y] or [Z].')  Still, this is a secondary point, and Obama's core critique remains accurate – Romney's math doesn't add up.  Annenberg (FactCheck.org) agrees.  Romney cannot deliver on all the things he has promised.  But because Romney has claimed that he will not add to the deficit, Annenberg judges Obama's critique "not true."  They've simultaneously pointed out that Romney's claims are, at best, extremely problematic, yet also insisted that Obama take Romney's claims at face value.  Perhaps they're being extremely pedantic about the word "proposed" as opposed to "entailed."  But basically, they're rewarding bullshitting.  Their full account gives more context, and better informs the public, but their bullet points are pretty lousy and misleading.  
    I think the best approach for fact-checking organizations in such cases is to start with the policy being critiqued and try to establish the facts, then assess how accurate a politician's depiction is.  For instance, here's what the Affordable Care Act's Medicare reform actually entails, and now let's assess the accuracy of Romney's charge about $716 billion in Medicare "cuts." (Verdict: Kinda accurate, but extremely misleading.)  Here's Romney's budget plan, and here's why the math doesn't add up.  Here's why Romney cannot keep all these promises simultaneously, and consequently, he would have to do one of these things.  Here's Obama's critique of Romney, which accurately points out part one, but is less precise with part two.  Basically, Romney is bullshitting, and Obama accurately calls him on it; when it comes to Romney's bullshitting about how he'd get out of his self-created jam, Obama adds some spin for political advantage.  

    Sorry, another long comment from me.  (I have my criticisms of Obama, but they are not often represented in the corporate media.) I think your last paragraph captures the problem nicely (and certainly more pithily).  Some political writer pointed out that, since Romney hasn't specified the actual reductions, it's a not an actual "plan" as much as a list of aspirations.  I appreciate the efforts of good fact-checkers, and I suspect they honestly wrestle with how to describe this stuff, but this is a prime example of a bad stumble.  (The bottom line for me is that I'm morally opposed to rewarding bullshitters, and no aspiring truth squad should do so.)   

Comments are closed.